By Lisa Rowlands

A thin-skinned, early ripening variety which is subsequently at risk of frost damage in cooler climates, Merlot is fairly adaptable to variations in temperature and soil composition, and is capable of producing moderate to high yields across a diverse range of terroirs. In sandy soils the grape tends towards softer wines, in limestone it is noted for its perfume, whereas soils that are rich in clay - such as in the Bordeaux appellations where the grape is most successful - deliver balanced, more structured examples with ripe tannins.

A large amount of the world’s Merlot is grown in France, particularly in Bordeaux where it is traditionally used to soften the blend. However, the grape is also the principal variety (in many vintages, the only variety) of the famous ‘Château Pétrus’ Grand Vin. This rare and exclusive wine, produced on the ferrous clay of the Pomerol appellation, ranks amongst the world’s most expensive.

Switzerland’s canton Ticino and a number of northern Italian regions such as Alto Adige, Umbria and Veneto also cultivate this variety with some success, producing everything from light and fruity, easy drinking wines to rich, well-structured examples that mature in oak barrels. The Ticino region also vinifies the Merlot grape to produce a white wine aperitif which has a fine reputation in its locality. Further afield, Chile, Argentina and Australia all have significant plantings of Merlot, yielding a diverse range of blends and varietals across all quality tiers.